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Lakewood Ranch's 'Sorrento Gang' has fun while giving back to nonprofits

From golf tournaments to Super Bowl pools, the Esplanade neighbors provide work hours and funds to benefit the community.

Esplanade at Lakewood Ranch's George Scherff, Robyn Kaiserman and Martin Hartmann, who are a part of the Sorrento Gang, volunteer at the Florida Center for Early Childhood.
Esplanade at Lakewood Ranch's George Scherff, Robyn Kaiserman and Martin Hartmann, who are a part of the Sorrento Gang, volunteer at the Florida Center for Early Childhood.
Photo by Liz Ramos
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After Hurricane Ian ripped through Sarasota and Manatee counties last September, Esplanade’s Richy Perez received an email.

Esplanade’s Tim Wilson, who serves on the board of the Florida Center for Early Childhood in Sarasota, asked Perez if he could help organize a group of volunteers to clean up the nonprofit’s campus that was ravaged by the hurricane. 

Perez knew what to do.

He reached out to the Sorrento “Stay Thirsty” Gang, a group of more than 200 residents who mostly live on Sorrento Way in Esplanade at Lakewood Ranch. 

It didn’t take long for Perez to hear back from dozens of Sorrento Gang members wanting to go to the nonprofit’s campus in Sarasota to volunteer or purchase supplies the Florida Center for Early Childhood needed to support its families. 

The next day, the Sorrento Gang was in full force clearing branches, picking up the campus, building a fence and more to support the Florida Center for Early Childhood. 

When Perez returned home from volunteering, he found his driveway filled with donations for the nonprofit.

Since its inception in 2018, the Sorrento “Stay Thirsty” Gang has found various ways to balance having fun and raising money for nonprofits. 

“We’re all at a stage in our lives that we feel appreciative of where we are, and it’s time to give back,” Perez said. 

Esplanade at Lakewood Ranch's Tim Wilson and Bob Babcock help with other members of the Sorrento Gang to pick up the Florida Center of Early Childhood in Sarasota after Hurricane Ian.
Photo by Liz Ramos

The Florida Center for Early Childhood Education will honor the Esplanade at Lakewood Ranch group at its Seaside Treasures Luncheon March 30 for its efforts.

After raising money for the nonprofit through a Super Bowl pool, Perez said the group wanted to do more than just hand the Florida Center for Early Childhood Education a check. The Sorrento Gang wanted to find ways its members could volunteer, so a few members visited the nonprofit to learn more about its mission. The Sorrento Gang members were blown away by the work done to provide therapeutic services and early education to children in southwest Florida. 

“It was exactly what we needed,” Perez said. “It was a win-win from the start. We as a group wanted a good excuse to get off our couches.”

Esplanade’s Lizane Nando spearheaded the volunteer efforts, coordinating with the Florida Center for Early Childhood. Now about a dozen Sorrento Gang members spend two days a week at the nonprofit volunteering.

“When you work with children, you see the smiles,” Nando said. “Sometimes the teacher wants us to work with one child, so we try to engage that child one-on-one and then with the whole group. It’s always fun because the kids start talking about everything and it makes you laugh. You come out of there with a nice smile.”

Kristen Theisen, the chief development officer at Florida Center for Early Childhood, said the nonprofit is appreciative of the Sorrento Gang’s dedication. 

“I love getting to know them and learning about where they came from, what experiences they’ve had and the different ways they can bring their talents to the children and families we serve,” she said. “It’s been heartwarming to see how much they give of themselves. Whether it was collecting supplies for our North Port campus or bringing power tools and supplies to our Sarasota campus to help after the hurricane damaged our playground, they just jump in and seem to do whatever they can.”

The Sorrento Gang started as a group of neighbors who moved onto Sorrento Way in the fall of 2018. They were all looking for ways to meet new people and settle into their new neighborhood.  

In December 2018, Perez and his wife, Luly Martinez, decided to host a Christmas party and invited the neighbors.

Before Perez and Martinez knew it, they had more than 60 people in their home talking, laughing and having a good time.

Backyard parties and Friday night socials became a regular occurrence for the neighbors. 

“We are fortunate to live in a place like Esplanade at Lakewood Ranch,” Perez said. “You love seeing the pool, the golf course, and initially, we all stepped back and said, ‘Wow,’ but that wow factor fades away. What stays is the quality of the people. That’s what makes this place unique and special. When we moved here, we knew we were coming to a nice place. We didn’t know we were coming to a special place.”

The Sorrento Group decided to take their social outings onto the golf course for a tournament in 2019. But rather than simply playing 18 holes of golf, each hole had a twist, such as swinging left-handed (if the golfer is right-handed) or throwing the ball instead of hitting it with a club.

The golf tournament inspired members of the group to have another tournament, but this time, they wanted to raise money for a nonprofit. 

The COVID-19 pandemic caused the Sorrento Gang to cancel its golf tournament to benefit Special Olympics Florida. 

But that didn’t stop the group from finding other ways to raise money for organizations. 

Esplanade at Lakewood Ranch's Len Frischer and Richy Perez celebrate the Sorrento "Stay Thirsty" Gang's donation to Special Olympics Florida with Pam Fazio, the Manatee County director of Special Olympics Florida, and Kristine Aristide, the regional development director of Special Olympics Florida.
Photo by Liz Ramos

The Sorrento Gang has an annual Super Bowl pool and has raised thousands to support nonprofits including Breast Health Sarasota, UnidosNow and the Florida Center for Early Childhood. 

Perez said some members who win in the pool choose to donate their winnings to the nonprofit. 

“They say just leave it in the pot for the charity,” Perez said. “Yet they’re competitive and will brag about their winning square for the next six months. But they didn’t make a penny out of it.”

Members of the Sorrento Gang made masks for local hospitals. They had a food drive that raised more than $5,000 and filled at least 10 bins with food to donate to the Food Bank of Manatee.

Once the group thought it was safe to host a large event, the Sorrento Gang held its golf tournament for Special Olympics Florida and raised more than $40,000. 

Perez and Nando said the group has a heart for giving back. 

“Not only do we make an impact on organizations, but it’s also making an impact here at Esplanade,” Nando said. “Whenever somebody needs a hand with something, there’s always somebody. Everybody’s in a happy place, and they are willing to give their time because they have reached a time in their life that they can give back.”



Liz Ramos

Liz Ramos covers education and community for East County. Before moving to Florida, Liz was an education reporter for the Lynchburg News & Advance in Virginia for two years after graduating from the Missouri School of Journalism.

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